An artistic guiding light

Veteran Penang artist’s restropective exhibition represents a life’s passion for art.

A TEACHER’S work is never done. While many people his age are slowing down and enjoying their retirement years, Tan Chiang Kiong, 81, is still nurturing students to become accomplished artists.

In fact, the veteran artist is still guiding students and teaching at the Chung Ling Private High School in Penang as the Dean for its arts faculty.

“My early involvement in promoting art education has helped the development of children’s art education in Penang. My students and their success, especially in art, have also brought me great pleasure,” says Tan, who is also the co-founder of the Penang Watercolour Society.

Wooden Hut (1969)

“Most of all, the development in my own paintings have brought me great satisfaction,” he adds.

The octogenarian, who is currently the subject a solo exhibition entitled The Retrospective Of Tan Chiang Kiong: Through His Mind’s Eye at the Penang State Art Gallery in Dewan Sri Pinang, is known for his skills in combining Chinese and Western painting techniques. Apart from this retrospective, Tan also received the Salut 55 award from Balai Seni Visual Negara during the gallery’s 55th anniversary celebrations in early September. The award recognised his pioneering academic work and contribution to local art in the last five decades.

Tan’s restropective at the Penang State Art Gallery is a major exhibition designed to represent his life’s work in art.

The exhibition, featuring 81 pieces, revisits his watercolour work and landscape view of Penang in the 1960s right to the man’s 1990s career rejuvenation and his present day acrylic projects. Interestingly, Tan made his solo debut in July 1996 (aged 63) in Penang. Over the years, he has kept himself closely involved in the art, academic and exhibition worlds.

“I can draw and paint at any time at any place, be it in the school or at home. When the inspiration comes, I would just start painting,” he says.

It can also be said that the spirit of Tan’s work is tied to the identity and vibrant culture of Penang.

“I feel that this retrospective is very meaningful because it allows the new generation to understand the growth and development of my art.”

The artist, who was born in Machang Bubok near Bukit Mertajam (Penang) in Sept 1932, mentions he wants to continue sharing his knowledge of art with his students.

The Beauty Of Geese (1965)

After graduating with an art degree from National Taiwan Normal University in 1961, he has never looked back.

Tan notes teaching also enables him to remain active and alert. In many ways, he has adopted a sustained practice of a life in art.

The affable artist mentions that the process of art is still an integral part of his daily life.

“My daily life is very routine – go to school to teach painting, my evening walk day in day out. However, I will still paint until I’m not able to do so. The process of producing and painting is very enjoyable and satisfying. From the inspiration comes the need to express,” he explains.

Thaipusam (1985)

But does he have any particular period or era that he is particularly fond of?

“I love all my art throughout all eras. At the moment, I like the paintings with acrylic. I find it easier and more effective to convey my message, express my feelings and emotions through this medium,” he points out.

A book containing 203 of Tan’s selected paintings is also on sale at the exhibition at RM80 each. It will be priced RM100 after the exhibition. Tan donated three of his paintings – In Praise Of Nature, Tranquility and Happy Hour – to the permanent collection of the gallery during the opening ceremony last weekend.

* The Retrospective Of Tan Chiang Kiong: Through His Mind’s Eye exhibition ends on Dec 22. The Penang State Art Gallery is open from 9am to 5pm daily except Fridays and public holidays. Admission is free. For details, call 04-226 1461.

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An artistic guiding light


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